Banjo vs. Guitar: What’s the Difference?

Both banjo and guitar are versatile instruments you can hear in different music opuses. A banjo is a cylindrical stringed instrument with four or five strings. Except for a bass guitar containing four of them, a typical guitar has six or more strings.

Musicians have different styles of playing these instruments. Therefore, if you decide to learn to play one of them, you need to determine primary banjo vs. guitar differences. Let’s discover them together.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Visual Appearance

The most noticeable difference between a guitar and a banjo is in their sizes. Guitar size may vary, but the banjo is typically smaller than most of them.

There are a few advantages of banjo’s dimensions. The main one is that you can effortlessly carry your instrument everywhere with you. For instance, you can place it above your seat when traveling by plane, while it is necessary to leave the guitar with the rest of your luggage.

The guitar is also a too bulky and heavy instrument for children. In most cases, it can be tiring for them to carry this bulky instrument daily from home to music school.

Besides coming in different sizes, you can find guitars that variate in shapes. Some of the popular ones are dreadnought and parlor, for an acoustic guitar, and Stratocaster, for the electric one.

On the other hand, all banjos look alike pretty much. They have a round frame with a thin layer over it, usually made of plastic or animal skin. Plus, they generally have a longer neck than guitars.

In the end, gauge and strings differ for these two instruments. Guitars typically come with steel or nylon strings, while banjos always have wired but lighter ones. That means you need a larger gauge for a guitar than for a banjo.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Music Style

Banjo vs. Guitar - Music Style
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Most people associate banjo with some particular music styles, such as traditional Irish music, folk, Dixieland jazz, or bluegrass. However, the banjo is a highly versatile instrument, just as much as the guitar is.

Believe it or not, many musicians adapt classical music pieces for this instrument. If you are talented and creative enough, you can use guitar and banjo to play various music genres, including rock, pop, classical, and country.

Therefore, there is no significant advantage of one instrument over another, at least when it comes to musical styles. The type of music you will play on your banjo or guitar depends solely on your preference and music taste.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Sound

Banjo vs. Guitar - Sound 1
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Whatever type of music you play, you can notice a difference in these two instruments’ sound even if you have an untrained ear.  A banjo sound is sharp with a high pitch, while a fine guitar produces a mellow, resonant tone.

Plus, playing the banjo can produce lauder music than a guitar, whose chamber body amplifies the sound. Therefore, you should use a banjo mute before deciding to practice in your living room.

Some banjo players use open-back banjos to lower the instrument volume. That way, the player achieves a calmer, more consistent sound than with the resonator banjo with a covered box. On the other hand, many fans of the traditional Clawhammer style, like Neil Young, choose an open instrument.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Learning Sources

Banjo vs. Guitar - Learning Sources
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If you decide to start playing banjo, you will quickly discover that only a few learning resources are available. So, you need to work much harder to find books, video guides, or tabs compared to the wide selection of guitar study materials.

A simple reason for this lack of information sources is that the guitar is a more popular and common instrument than the banjo. Although there are online sites where you can get free banjo lessons, most of the information is scanty and applies only to the beginner level.

If you prefer to learn with a mentor, you will have difficulty finding the right person if you prefer banjo. On the other hand, numerous guitar teachers provide lessons for all studying levels, whether online or in person.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Tuning Differences

Banjo vs. Guitar - Tuning Differences
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One of the most vital distinctions between guitar and banjo is tuning. You should use the standard tuning for guitar (E, A, D, G, B, E notes), while you need to use the Open G tuning for a banjo (G, D, G, B, D notes).

That is a reason many consider leaning banjo easier than guitar. If you thrum strings on a tuned banjo, you won’t get an unharmonious sound, which you get by doing the same thing on open guitar strings.

It will require minimum effort to play your first chord on the banjo. On the other hand, it is necessary to arch your fingers in a quite uncomfortable position to play a guitar chord.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Chord Learning

Banjo vs. Guitar - Chord Learning
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The majority of banjo accords are easy to learn because they involve two and three-finger chords. If you already play the guitar, you will master playing the banjo in no time. However, banjo players may consider studying guitar chords too complicated.

The mere fact that a guitar has more strings than a banjo makes learning guitar chords more demanding and time-consuming. Plus, it requires a more sophisticated fingering technique.

Once you learn a few basic banjo chords, you will be able to play uncomplicated bluegrass melodies shortly after. However, getting to a point where you actually play a song on guitar can require several weeks of serious practice, depending on your dedication.

In this regard, a banjo has some precedence over the guitar because it is an uncomplicated instrument. That makes learning banjo more attractive for children and novices in music theory.

Banjo vs. Guitar – Playing Style

Banjo vs. Guitar - Playing Style
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Although it is not an official rule of thumb, there is a generally accepted difference in the banjo and guitar playing methods. Namely, most guitarists use a guitar pick and strum the strings.

On the other hand, banjo players almost always use fingerpicking to play. That means they use fingers, fingernails, and a thumb pick to pluck the banjo’s strings, thus producing sounds.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, the Dire Straits guitarist, Mark Knopfler, is famous for his fingerpicking technique. On the other hand, you can use a guitar’s flat pick to play, just like Johnny St. Cyr when playing on Luis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings.

However, the father of bluegrass music, in 1946 has developed the so-called three-finger technique playing banjo. It is a rapid plucking, which, combined with the folk music of that time, created the bluegrass music genre.

Nowadays, this method is well-known as the Scruggs style, and only banjo players use it. They use thumb, middle, and index fingers, with or without using a thumb pick.

Some blues and bluegrass banjo players use a plastic pick for the thumb while picking out metal plectrums for the other two fingers they use. This method is efficient in amplifying banjo sound.

There are many other banjo playing styles and modifications. However, the most popular ones besides the three-finger style are melodic (Keith Style), Clawhammer, and single-finger (Reno Style).

Banjo vs. Guitar – Price

Banjo vs. Guitar - Price
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For both guitar and a banjo, the price depends on several factors, including quality, brand, material type, and string quality. Still, the tremendous guitar popularity results in mass production of this instrument at lower prices and quality.

That means you can find it easier to afford a guitar than a banjo. Nowadays, you can find a plastic guitar for beginners for less than $100. At the same time, entry-level banjo costs about $250 on average.

The same difference exists when it comes to electric instruments. You can buy a quality electric guitar for $300 to $500, while you need to set aside almost twice as much for an electric banjo.

As for intermediate and advanced players, instruments prices go even higher. Be prepared that the top-quality banjo can cost you several thousands of dollars.

That is because many banjos come with a lot of hardware, including plated steel, wire strings, and brass parts. Typically, you can expect to pay for a banjo two to three times more than for a guitar of the same quality.

Banjo-Guitar

If you can’t make up your mind between banjo and guitar, you will be happy to know you can have both in one instrument. A banjo-guitar is also known as a banjitar or a guitjo. It is actually a banjo instrument with six strings and the standard guitar tuning.

Guitarists who want to get a banjo sound without getting used to a different tuning widely accept this instrument. Although only some banjo players choose to play guitjo, the famous jazz musician Johnny St. Cyr preferred playing this instrument exclusively.

Sadly, you can have difficulty finding the popular song tabs for this unique instrument. There are not many compositions featuring it, either. Instead, you need to adapt by ear the piece you want to play.

Summary

Although there are many differences between banjo and guitar, the similarities between them allow for knowledge transfer. If you play either of these two string instruments, you will learn to play another much faster than a beginner.

Many believe it is easier to learn banjo than guitar but, in the end, it all comes down to your personal preferences. Choose the instrument that you enjoy playing more and enjoy.

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